10 Films That Changed Filmmaking

'The General' (1926)
Buster Keaton peers inside what appears to be a cannon in 'The General.' Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images

Before there was Jason Bourne and Detective John McClane there was Buster Keaton. The godfather of physical acting set the bar for scores of leading men to come. This silent movie star did all of his own stunts, starting with an inadvertent tumble down a flight of stairs at the age of 6 months. Somehow, Joseph Francis Keaton emerged unscathed and Harry Houdini, who was on hand, picked him up and said the boy could really take a "buster," or a fall [source: PBS].

Unlike today's action stars, most of Keaton's battering and bruising was done for laughs. He was one of the original deadpan actors, never showing a sign of emotion, despite the angry crowds, train car hooligans or other hijinks following closely behind him. He set the stage for a wide range of actors to follow, from Bill Murray and Alec Baldwin to Michael Cera and Zach Galifinakis [source: Barnes].

"The General," is Keaton at his best: a train chase caper set in the Civil War era that the actor starred in, wrote and directed. Two extended chase scenes showcase his full range of talent, as he bounds over boxcars, leaps over a flaming bridge and narrowly dodges a cannonball, all without breaking that stone face [source: Dirks].